DENHAM SPRINGS – Completion of the long-awaited Comite River Diversion Canal will still depend upon a millage collected in three parishes, despite assurance of full federal funding for the project.
The 2.65-mill property tax on the books since 2000 needs voter approval for a third 10-year renewal in 2020 to pay for parts of the projects the federal dollars will not cover, said Dietmar Rietschier, executive director of the Amite River Basin Commission.
Rietschier joined members of the Army Corps of Engineers and the state Department of Transportation Dec. 3 at the DS-Walker branch of the Livingston Parish Library for an informational meeting on the progress of the CRDC, a project which has been on the drawing board since 1985.
The non-federal share of the project includes the ongoing land acquisition for the project. The tax would also include the maintenance and upkeep of the project. The full federal commitment to the project will only cover the construction, Rietschier said.
The $343 million in federal funds to complete the CDRC should eliminate skepticism by residents who doubted the project would come to fruition, State Rep. Valarie Hodges, who heads the Comite River Diversion Canal Task Force, told the crowd of 60-plus.
“(Skepticism) was totally understandable before when the project looked dead, but now that we have this project 100 percent fully funded, it’s a reality and it’s something we need to push for,” said Hodges, R-Denham Springs.
The tax went on the books in 2000 and voters approved its renewal 10 years later.
The millage generates $2,700,699 annually. Of that total, East Baton Rouge taxpayers contribute $2,243,965 (83 percent), while Ascension forks out $371,938 (14 percent), and Livingston pays $84,766 (3 percent).
Through that amount, a taxpayer with $150,000 in property shells out $19.87 per year, while a resident with a $400,000 property value pays $86.12 annually.
Questions from the crowd focused mainly on acquisition issues, including an inquiry from one resident who asked if the project would positively impact the flood issues along the Amite River.
“As a whole, the numbers we have were devised in the 1990s, but now we’re looking at a basin-wide model,” Rietschier said.
Paul Sawyer, Chief of Staff for Congressman Garret Graves, said a more comprehensive flood control project could come into the mix, particularly because of the growth in three parishes in the 30-plus years since completion of the design for the CDRC.
“They’re going back and asking if these projects work, if they need to do something else,” he said. “Rooftops, sidewalks and driveways that are proliferating along the Amite River in two of the fastest growing parishes in the South – Livingston and Ascension – mean that what was designed years ago is insufficient for what’s needed today.”
Rietschier and the representatives from DOTD and the COE remained firm on their commitment to complete the project by 2021.
Phase 1— the Lily Bayou Structure on the west side of U.S. 61 – is the only completed portion of the three-phase project, on which officials broke ground in 2003.
Work recently kicked off on the Phase 2, which involves the relocation of utilities, the most expensive and time-consuming part of the project.
Relocation on the west side of U.S. 61 involves two transmitter lines and two fiber-optic communication lines. Work on the east side include movement on three of four pipelines and five communication lines.
Phase 2 also involves relocation of disposal areas and railroads, as well as construction of a bridge that will cross U.S. 61.